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An interview with Philip Kitcher

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  • Human Nature Review
    Human Nature Review 2004 Volume 4: 87-92 ( 7 February ) URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/04/kitcher.html Interview INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2004
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      Human Nature Review 2004 Volume 4: 87-92 ( 7 February )
      URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/04/kitcher.html



      Philip Kitcher is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and one of the
      most influential philosophers of science of the past two decades. His writings
      have been distinguished by the depth clarity of his analysis and the broad
      range of the questions on which he has written. Kitcher has published numerous
      papers on the philosophy of biology, works on foundational epistemological and
      metaphysical issues related to science (The Nature of Mathematical Knowledge
      [1983], The Advancement of Science [1993]), and several books dealing with
      hot-button issues such as creationism (Abusing Science [1982]), sociobiology
      (Vaulting Ambition [1985]), and genetic engineering (The Lives to Come [1996]).
      His most recent books are Science, Truth and Democracy (2001) and In Mendel's
      Mirror (2003), a collection of his most important papers recently reviewed by
      Human Nature Review.

      Human Nature Review associate editor Phil Gasper interviewed Kitcher by email

      PG: You dedicate your new collection of essays, In Mendel's Mirror, to Richard
      Lewontin and the late Stephen Jay Gould, but in two papers you also take issue
      with some of Lewontin's ideas, lightheartedly describing yourself as playing
      Keir Hardie (the founder of the British Labour Party) to Lewontin's Lenin. Why
      did you choose this dedication and what are your disagreements with Lewontin?

      PK: I dedicated In Mendel's Mirror to the memory of Steve and to Dick
      (originally to Steve and Dick) because of the important role they have played
      in my own thinking about biology, and, of course, in that of many other
      philosophers of biology. Both have been Immensely hospitable to philosophers,
      and both have written a great deal that is of philosophical interest. Of
      course, from time to time, I have disagreed with both of them, and, in Dick's
      case, this has taken a particular form. Although we have been on the same side
      of disputes about the credentials of human sociobiology (say) his stance has
      often been more radical than mine. He's chided me for not recognizing the
      systematic way in which the conclusions we both oppose are generated; I've seen
      him as importing an overarching scheme where there is none to be found. It
      seemed to me that the contrast between the left-wing approaches of Keir Hardie
      and Lenin captured this in a mildly amusing way.

      PG: We might distinguish, first, the claim that there are social factors, such
      as the interests of dominant groups, which might systematically favor the
      repeated emergence of hypotheses which seem to favor those interests despite
      little scientific merit and, second, the claim that there are features
      intrinsic to our current biological paradigms that effectively serve the same
      purpose. The first claim is about factors external to science, the second about
      internal factors. I take it that you wouldn't necessarily deny the first claim,
      but that your dispute with Lewontin is about the second. Perhaps he would
      maintain that the rot runs deeper than the first claim by itself recognizes,
      and that the social factors have affected the way in which fundamental
      biological issues are conceptualized. Does that seem a fair way of capturing
      your disagreement?

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